Employers get free work from job candidates

In this competitive job market, employers can ask just about anything of job candidates.  In the last couple of years, however, we are seeing a new trend, especially for job seekers in the writing and editing field. That trend is the rise of the writing test.

The writing and editing test can be a useful tool for employers to weed out candidates in an entry-level position where candidates have not built up much of a portfolio, but it doesn’t serve much purpose for middle management positions or positions requiring experience.  Some employers, though, are now using specific assignments to procure free work from their extensive pool of job candidates.

Here’s a specific example:  Salem Health, a hospital in Salem, Oregon, recently posted a job for a copywriter/editor with experience in health care marketing.  Rather than ask for writing and editing samples or giving a writing test, the marketing director of the hospital sent out an email to “the most qualified candidates” asking them to complete the following assignment from an 18-page information booklet about the Bariatic Surgery Department:

  • Write a brief section for the hospital website encouraging readers to click through the bariatric web pages and motivate them to sign up for a free community information session.
  • Write a longer article for their quarterly newsletter to encourage readers to go online for more information about Baratric Surgery services.
  • Develop a sample print ad, “approximately 3 columns x 8 inches in size, 50-75 words, to compel readers to call or go online to sign up for a free community information session.
  • Write a lengthy article for a trifold brochure.

After completing all these “assignments,” the top candidates would then be contacted for an on-site interview.

Obviously, the marketing director will be able to pick and choose the best writing assignments from this pool and use the samples for the hospital.  Why pay for an advertising copywriter when you can get the work for free from desperate job seekers?

I charge a minimum of $75 an hour to clients to develop these same materials for their websites and brochures, yet an employer wants these services for free.  I’ve been a writer for more than 30 years, and have managed marketing assignments and coordinated work from advertising agencies at two hospitals, but I refuse to do free work for an employer who will not compensate me for material that will end up on the company’s website.

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Recruiters and HR directors don’t get you jobs

After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search.  After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes.  I may be at that point.

In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates.  I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews.  I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer.  The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.

Let me give two examples.  Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer.  She called back and conducted a long interview.  We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate.  Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview. 

A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:

     “Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX.  Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice.  At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process.   The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area.  Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”

Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time?  Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates?  Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?

A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview.  She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager.  Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.

When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job  (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.”  Uhh?  She wants someone who is NOT qualified?  Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.

All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer.  But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position.  I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager.  What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?

I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market.  To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/localvoices/stories/DN-stanfield_15edi.ART.State.Edition1.14be30f.html

Unemployment extension to run out

   This Sunday evening, 60 Minutes will run a segment about the “99ers” – unemployed Americans whose unemployment extensions will run out at the end of next month. From all reports, Congress will not renew the extension, despite the fact that millions who have diligently sought work in their fields are about to lose their main source, if not their sole source, of income.  I look forward to seeing the piece because it is an issue most of the mainstream media ignores, and because the segment will focus on unemployed professionals with advanced degrees who have been unable to find decent work. 

   Earlier this summer, all Republican senators and representatives voted against a small extension to unemployment benefits.  I wrote my congressman – Republican Howard Coble — about my disappointment over his vote.  Here is an excerpt from my letter:

Dear Rep. Coble:

I was appalled and shocked about your comments today on the floor of the House arguing that the long-term unemployed should not receive extended benefits from the federal government because “it is not paid for.” As one of those 2.5 million Americans, I am mortified that I am being used as a political pawn in the fight between the Republican and Democratic parties.  I have been battling every day to find a full-time job since being laid off from my previous employer last year.  I don’t want a handout, I want a job.  Even though I was a director, I have resorted to applying for jobs that pay less than half of what I was making. I’ve tried networking, social media, recruiters — everything.  I got laid off through no fault of my own and this unemployment insurance has been a lifeline to support my family and keep our house (we’ve already lost our health insurance because we can’t afford it). Without it, we would probably lose our home.  Now I hear you say we don’t deserve this insurance like it’s some sort of government handout. Listening to part of this debate today, I see a real disconnect between congress people like you and real people who are trying to support their families.  Both Republicans and Democrats think these benefits go to just the “truck drivers” and “janitors” who lost their jobs. Well, here’s a news flash, this Great Recession has affected everyone, including long-term professionals like myself who have 20 years of experience in their field. I’ve applied for more than 500 jobs in the last year without success. Many times I hear the position has been closed or they picked an internal candidate or some other excuse.  Each time I pick myself up and try the job search grind again. So listening to you get up there on your high horse and talk about “when the Democrats did this” and “when the Democrats did that” when I’m trying to save my house and support my family, shows to me you care more about political posturing and the blame game than you do about your constituents. 

   Congressman Coble wrote me back and I wanted to share that in this post.  It’s an example of how political and ideological in-fighting has paralyzed Washington from actually serving anything but big business:

 August 30, 2010

    Thank you for contacting our office to request information on recent legislation signed into law extending federal unemployment insurance.  We appreciate hearing from you. 

 President Obama signed the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 4213) into law on July 22, 2010.  The bill extends unemployment benefits through the end of November.  We are acutely aware that the recession has hit Sixth District residents especially hard and that persistent unemployment is making it difficult for many families to make ends meet.  Despite our concern for unemployed workers, we voted against this bill for several reasons. 

 First, Congress has recently focused all its attention on extending unemployment insurance.  We voted for several extensions while the economy was in danger of a complete collapse, but Democratic leaders in Congress have simply extended unemployment insurance instead of enacting policies that will create jobs.  We firmly believe the economic stimulus bill, the new health care law and financial reforms will actually prevent job creation.  When businesses are saddled with new regulations and new costs, they simply will not hire new employees. 

Second, H.R. 4213 added an additional $34 billion to the deficit.  Republicans in the Senate offered an amendment that would have offset this cost by using unspent stimulus funds.  Despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s insistence that unemployment payments were a form of stimulus, Democratic leaders refused to allow a vote on this amendment.  The White House recently stated that the deficit for Fiscal Year 2010 will reach $1.47 trillion.  Increasing the annual deficit and the long-term debt is no small matter.  For every dollar the federal government spends, it must take one dollar out of the private economy.  These are dollars that businesses would normally use to hire new employees.  The federal government cannot create long-term job growth.  By sucking resources out of the private economy, they will merely extend the misery of persistent unemployment.  In fact, White House officials have projected unemployment to remain above nine percent for several more years. 

 Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views.  Please feel free to contact our office if we may be of assistance to you in the future. 

     Sincerely,

     HOWARD COBLE

     Member of Congress

Job interviewing

One of the most exasperating aspects of job interviewing is succeeding in impressing the hiring manager but not landing the job. This has happened to me a few times during the last 16 months. The job description perfectly matches my background and skill set, so I studiously research the employer and the department.

The initial phone screening interview goes exceedingly well – so well, in fact, the hiring manager invites me to the department’s office for an interview with her and two employees. During the interview, the manager says how impressed she is with my experience and work. The younger employee seems excited that I can help her with her loads of work. I answer every question with proof and confidence that I can do the job. I say how eager I am to work with this quality organization and know I can make an immediate contribution. At the end of the interview, I even ask if there are any concerns that I cannot perform any of the job duties, and they say no. They seem impressed, and say so. When I am escorted out by the younger employee, I am told this is a wonderful place to work and she tells me I should expect to hear something within one week.

I write a stellar thank you letter to the manager and mention how I am excited to work with all members of the staff, whom I mention by name. I reiterate my qualifications and how I can bring results. I write that I see this position as a long-term opportunity to help the organization grow and succeed.

A week-and-a-half goes by with no correspondence. I do something I usually don’t – call the hiring manager to inquire about the status of the position. She tells me “the process and the hiring decision has been a difficult one,” but doesn’t tell me flat out that I am not in the running. I can tell by the sound in her voice that I have not been selected, but she doesn’t have the guts to tell me I was not selected and wants to leave that dirty work for HR. That impression is solidified when I ask her when I should expect to hear a final decision. “You should hear something by the end of the month, either from us or HR.”

Although I am almost certain I did not get the job, I email her another thank you and information about my awards and achievements that relate to the job. I end the email with an appreciation that I am being considered to work for such an outstanding organization.

A few days later, I receive an email from her stating succinctly this: “I wanted to let you know that we have concluded our search for our XXXX position and have made an offer to an individual who has a long working history with our organization. We all enjoyed meeting you and recognize your many talents. We wish you all the best.”

A few days later, she returns my sample work DVD in the mail with a note: “Thanks again for your interest in our position – we had a very strong pool of candidates, and the process was lengthy and challenging. You certainly have a lot to offer – best of luck, and best regards.”

I like the ‘best of luck’ ending the best. In this economy, luck is what you need.

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